Bookshots: 'The Double' by George Pelecanos

Bookshots: 'The Double' by George Pelecanos

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


The Double

Who wrote it?

George Pelecanos, an American crime novelist who often focuses on Washington, D.C., and a writer/producer for The Wire and Treme.

A solid and engaging crime drama which excels when it explores racial tensions. The Double will provide fans of the genre an enjoyable read.

Plot in a Box:

A murder and a stolen painting bring Spero Lucas face-to-face with a small ring of criminals—and himself.

Invent a new title for this book

You Know What I’ve Done

Read this if you liked:

The Hunter and other novels by Donald E. Westlake.

Meet the book’s lead:

Lucas, a former marine and adept private investigator, is fiercely loyal and determined. He pursues his cases and passions without compromise.

Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:

A young Viggo Mortensen, not so much for his physical characteristics as for his intensity, physical capability, and palpable confidence.

Setting: Would you want to live there?

This novel includes thieves, rapists, and murderers, which are not neighbors I find appealing. I’ve never wanted to live in or near Washington, D.C., and a crime novel just is not the right medium to change my mind.

What was your favorite sentence?

Pelecanos' use of short, direct sentences makes choosing one sentence impossible, since the power of the writing comes from the whole, rather than the part.

The Verdict:

One the whole, The Double is an interesting and engaging crime drama, and many readers will enjoy the straightforward nature of the narrative. This lack of pretense is supported by Pelecanos’ embrace of efficient declarative sentences, as well as objective precision. For example, Lucas doesn’t drink beer, he drinks Stella; he doesn’t ride a bike, he rides a Greg LeMond; he doesn’t listen to rock or indie music, he listens to Lucero, My Morning Jacket, DBT, The Hold Steady, Dinosaur Jr., and Sonic Youth. Some readers may interpret this as smug or even pretentious, but others will appreciate its definitiveness. Pelecanos leaves this interpretation to the reader.

In contrast to this precision, Pelecanos is often vague when discussing the race of his characters and the role that it plays in the story. Lucas, adopted by Greek American parents as a child, has two adopted African American brothers and one sister who is a biological child of his parents, yet his own race is never stated. It is only by piecing together opaque references and seeing how individual characters are treated throughout the novel that the reader is able to discern his ethnicity. Because of his childhood and this ambiguity, Lucas moves freely among situations and between individuals in ways that others would not be able to. Although the race of the characters is rarely overt in the writing, the implications of race are present throughout the novel, and the resulting racial subtext is fascinating and compelling, even if only apparent for the astute reader.

The novel’s treatment of women is not as nuanced, and it lacks strong, multi-dimensional female characters. For the most part, women exist in The Double for the sole purpose of being used sexually and financially by the novel’s male characters. The most complex female character initiates an affair with Lucas, which revolves exclusively around sexual gratification. In this affair, the gender motivations are inverted: Lucas is open to more than a physical relationship, but she is not. Despite this, the relationship serves only to add depth to Lucas' character, and the stronger motivations of this partner and what she does outside the bedroom are never explored. With this in mind, it seems unlikely that The Double will resonate with female audiences the way that it will with male audiences.

Overall, the novel is a solid and engaging crime drama which excels when it explores racial tensions. The Double will provide fans of the genre an enjoyable read. 

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Keith's picture
Keith from Phoenix, AZ is reading Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephen Graham Jones October 8, 2013 - 1:33pm

I love Pelecanos, generally speaking he has a great eye for detail. But let me ask, how many male writers do you encounter who craft their female character as nothing more than cardboard filler? Do you notice any female authors who do the same thing to their male characters?

cshultz81's picture
cshultz81 from Oklahoma is reading Best Horror of the Year Volume 8 October 9, 2013 - 12:42am

Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill and his famous pappy, plus Chuck Palahniuk all write fantastic female characters. As for the lady writers, Gillian Flynn wrote the male protagonist in Gone Girl quite realistically. Ditto for JK Rowling, who wrote more than a handful of male characters across seven books, not to mention a believable male protagonist. Those are just a few examples.

I like it better when authors get specific about the beer their characters drink, the music they listen to, etc. Little details like that are highly informative.

Cath Murphy's picture
Cath Murphy from UK is reading Find out on the Unpr!ntable podcast October 9, 2013 - 1:41am

That's a really interesting point @Keith and off the top of my head I'd say that actually writers are either good at characters or bad at characters and that the gender of the characters doesn't seem to make that much of a difference. But I haven't read Pelecanos, so he might be an exception.